A perception test for the deracialisation of middle class South African English

  • Rajend Mesthrie
  • Alida Chevalier
  • Kate McLachlan


Recent sociophonetic research has demonstrated how the effects of post-apartheid desegregation at schools upon the social networks of young middle-class South Africans have fostered major changes in South African English. In particular, middle-class speakers of Black, Coloured and Indian groups show different degrees of accommodation to the norms of erstwhile White South African English. Moreover, some speakers appear to have completely crossed over— linguistically speaking—into what used to be the space of young, middle-class ‘General’ speakers of White South African English. This article tests the extent of the crossover by a sociophonetic perception test. University students from a range of backgrounds were asked to judge from brief clips excerpted from interviews the ethnic background of a selection of Black and White university students with a multiracial school background. As hypothesised, the results show that (a) respondents are in many instances unable to differentiate between Black and White speakers by voice alone and (b) they are able to differentiate ethnic background more easily for male speakers than females.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614